It’s Christmas. It’s that time of year where we express our gratitude for life though the exchange of gifts with good friends.
It’s Christmas. It’s that time of year where we express our gratitude for life though the exchange of gifts with good friends. For most of us, it’s a happy time. Sadly, for many the holiday season is a reminder of hardships past, present and yet-to-come. At this cold time of the year when we hope for the warmth of our loved ones my mind drifts to those without a home.
It might be hard to imagine, but I was once homeless. It’s a long story for another day but I’m telling you because I want you to understand that it can happen to any of us. Many people think that those without a home are responsible for their lot in life and that laziness and poor judgement are the causes. If only it were that easy. The actual causes of homelessness are complicated but it’s safe to say that whatever happened in that person’s life, it was catastrophic.
No-one really knows how many are homeless but recent estimates suggest 4,751 people are sleeping rough on any one night, the majority of whom are men. Across Yorkshire and the Humber we saw a 20% rise in homelessness between 2016 and 2017. Some, can be found bedding down on the street whilst others sofa surf with friends or acquaintances. As you might imagine, the lack of access to food, drink, warmth and clean water makes it hard to stay healthy.
Alcohol and drug misuse are common, as is poor mental health affecting an estimated 86% of those without a home. Of course, these problems are linked and it’s hard to know which came first. For many, life is so hard that alcohol and drugs are used to ease the pain caused by the catastrophes of life. However, what at first is used as a medicine in itself becomes the disease.
I’ve been fortunate to have worked with homeless charities in the past who have helped me to understand the healthcare needs of those living rough and how we might help them to bond with society again and minimise their alienation. Routine and access to normal everyday life is an important part of that, including the occasional receipt of acts of human kindness. For example, many people think that the homeless are unable to register with a GP to help meet their needs. Thankfully, that’s nothing more than a pervasive myth but it reflects some of the false barriers that affect the homeless.
I like to image a world where we could break down these barriers with words. Imagine asking a homeless person “do you need help to see a doctor?” What kind of response do you think you would get? Once upon a time, you might have asked me that question and I’d have responded “Thank you, but I’m already training to be a doctor.”
Winston Churchill once said, “Christmas is a season not only of rejoicing but of reflection”. This year, I’m reflecting on these barriers and how they obstruct our path to a better society.